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By contrast, Fassbinder’s “gay” films that predate his Querelle are never about homosexuality; they merely focus on gay characters.
These characters are no more or less moral, no more or less perverse, than their heterosexual counterparts in the same or other films.
He pointed out the difficulty he had had in determining the ‘fine line’ separating the ‘corny’ from the ‘fascistoid’ in adapting the novel and in making clear that the apparent ‘glorification of violence’ in the novel applies only to the particular society with which Genet was dealing.
(260) This interview demonstrates Fassbinder’s clear understanding of the difficulties he faced in adapting Querelle in a way that might reconcile, or at least address, his misgivings about power relationships and identity politics as presented in Genet’s novel.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s cinematic adaptation of Querelle embraces and reflects this sense of disorientation in a variety of ways, some of them perhaps unintentional.
In this article I argue that “disorientation” indeed functions as the primary aesthetic mode in which the film operates, permeating visual style, narrative strategy, sound editing, audience response, and even critical reaction to Fassbinder’s final film.
He does not present physical violence as ecstatic: while his characters sometimes find a kind of ecstasy in their own masochism, they neither transcend the limits of their personalities nor succeed in transforming themselves.
The filmmaker gets away with simultaneously embracing and commenting on melodramatic devices because the audience is familiar enough with melodrama’s generic conventions to be both in on the joke and moved by the plight of the characters.
The actors aren’t called upon to act but to keep a straight face, which may sometimes be difficult for the audience. Canby is not alone in reading the film as pretentious and unintentionally humorous.
Critic after critic claims, for example, that Lysiane’s theme song (with Lyrics borrowed from Oscar Wilde) “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves” is, as Canby puts it, “unintentionally hilarious.” Still other critics read the film version of Querelle as overtly campy, intentionally mocking the overwrought existential poetry of Genet’s novel.
As Watson writes, “The film seems to have been for Fassbinder an occasion of exploring imaginatively — and critically — those aggressive aspects of homoerotic sexuality that apparently both fascinated and troubled him” (260).
Watson goes on to discuss an interview in Anarchy of the Imagination in which Fassbinder talked at length of his ambivalence about the possibly fascistic aspects of Genet’s Querelle de Brest and of his guarded fascination with sadomasochism.